Ontario hostels and university residences make travel affordable even if you’re on a tight budget. Get the nitty-gritty facts here.
Hostels and dorms both provide inexpensive accommodation but differ in some ways. I’ll deal with hostels first.
What would you say if I told you that staying in a jail is a great way to save money in Ottawa? And that I’ve tried it out, and it wasn’t that bad?
Don’t worry! The former Ottawa Jail isn’t actually taking prisoners these days, and they don’t hang residents anymore either. The building is now The Ottawa Jail Hostel, which has to be one of the quirkiest in Canada. It was converted to a hostel back in 1973 – when Prince Philip toured the site – and since then has been welcoming overnight visitors as well as curious tourists who take the Ottawa Haunted Walk Tours.
Not all Ontario hostels are this weird, though. The one in Maynooth, near the entrance to Algonquin Park, used to be an old hotel so it feels a bit more ordinary. Mind you, the early 20th century tin ceilings and the slightly dilapidated vintage look does make it stand out from your typical cookie-cutter chain motel.
Hostels are dirt cheap compared to all other forms of accommodation besides camping. Some hostels only offer shared rooms (you get one bed or one bunk in a room with other travellers), but other Ontario hostels offer private rooms with one or two beds for a higher price. A bed in a dorm goes from $18-35 and a private room will run you about $30-80.
One night in a hostel will usually run you half or a third of what you'd pay for a budget hotel/motel in the same area. Talk about a great way to double or triple your vacation time!
Advantages of hostels
Besides the low cost, another benefit of hostels in Ontario is that they often come with fully equipped kitchens, so you can prepare your own meals. This is great if you’re on a special diet or just want to save some cash.
People staying in hostels tend to be quite sociable, too, so you can glean a lot of information from fellow travellers.
The hostels themselves usually have plenty of information on tourist attractions, and practical things like how to get to places, etc, geared to the budget traveller. You’ll find boards advertising “rides wanted” and “rides offered” and info about public transit.
Some have laundry rooms.
Some rent out sporting equipment, set up social nights, or offer walking tours.
Disadvantages of Ontario hostels
Hostels are not for everyone.
If you don’t want to share a bathroom with strangers, make your own bed, and risk sleeping on lumpy mattresses and thin pillows now and then, you’re probably not a good candidate for a hostel.
That said, however, some hostels do have private rooms, as I mentioned. And the comfort of the bed depends mostly on how recently the hostel was renovated.
Hostels can also be noisy, especially if you’ve got a large group of students travelling together. Some hostels are known as “party hostels”, so beware. Read the reviews on www.hostels.com.
How do I book hostels?
There are many hostels in Ontario operated by many different owners.
First, there are the ones belonging to Hostelling International Canada ("HI"). This organization, which is the Canadian branch of an international network, operates 5 hostels in Ontario: Barrie, Niagara Falls, Toronto, South Algonquin, and Ottawa. Although you’ll get a cheaper deal if you’re a member, they do accept non-members as well. You can find them at www.hihostels.ca.
Then there are the private hostels. You can find them at www.hostels.com which lists ratings and reviews by people who’ve used them, as well. Or try http://www.backpackers.ca.
Many universities rent out their dormitory rooms (or “dorms”) for the summer and you don't always have to be a student to stay there. Policies vary. In dorms you get a private room but often share the bathrooms. (Note: If you’re from the UK, dorms are what you call “student halls” and they are only available in the summer here, not over spring break as is common in the UK.)
Cost for dorm rooms are around $50-90.
To book university residences, check the university’s web site directly. Or call the school and ask if they do summer rentals of dorm rooms for tourists.
Both of these budget options – hostels and university dorms -- are great if you're willing to trade off a little comfort to save big.